Wakame is a member of the brown seaweed family, with other members such as kelp/kombu and arame. It is a regular component to traditional Japanese and Eastern Asian diets as it is native to the Pacific Northwest.
Wakame is rich in two unique phytonutrients that have demonstrated significant protective benefits in both animal and human feeding trials. This seaweed is almost 75% carbohydrate by weight and much of that is in the form of highly branched polysaccharides that have a large amount of attached sulfur. This sulfated carbohydrate molecule is known as a fucoidan and the research around fucoidans suggests that they are one of the more anti-inflammatory substances found in plants.
Fucoidans have the ability, through their sulfate content, to block the transmission of inflammation-stimulating signals through trans-cellular membrane glycoprotein channels known as selectins. Selectins are essentially the signal highways for initiating inflammation. Additionally, fucoidans inhibit the activity of cyclo-oxygenase enzymes such as PLA2 or phospholipase 2. These enzymes are responsible for cleaving arachidonic acid out of the cell membrane and converting it to eicosanaoids of the series II family. These are the hormones that make our blood more likely to clot, increase the fibrinogen content of our blood, and create inflammation in general.
Therefore, eating wakame and acquiring fucoidans daily can help block inflammation via two distinct mechanisms: stopping selectin transmission and by blocking PLA2 activity. The result is not only less inflammation but anticoagulant effects and better circulation for those who need it.
In addition to these demonstrated effects, fucoidans have been shown to suppress viral activity and to stop infections from spreading. These sulfated polysaccharides can block virus binding sites and thereby inhibit their ability to replicate. Trials with wakame and the herpes simplex virus (HSV1 and HSV2) have shown significant reductions in the development of symptoms and in the severity of symptoms.
Lastly, wakame consumption by women, ranging from several years to a lifetime, is associated with a significant risk reduction from estrogen positive breast cancer. Researchers speculate that the fucoidans in wakame inhibit the production of estrogen at higher levels during particular phases of the menstrual cycle.
As though this were not enough reason to add wakame to our diets, there is more. Fucoxanthine is a yellow-brown colored carotenoid found in this family of seaweed. It has a potent antioxidant capacity and has been involved in several cancer trials as part of an adjunct therapy, again demonstrating favorable results with improved outcomes. Wakame can be added to soups or salads as a way to improve the nutrient density of the diet, especially with respect to trace minerals. It is an exceptional source of iodine, vanadium, copper, and manganese.